Read I'm Too Young for This!: The Natural Hormone Solution to Enjoy Perimenopause Online
Authors: Suzanne Somers
Tags: #Health & Fitness, #Healthy Living, #Alternative Therapies, #Sexuality
Progesterone levels are low during the first phase of your menstrual cycle (follicular cycle). Levels increase sharply for a maximum of ten days following ovulation, which occurs around day 14. Levels decline rapidly about four days prior to menstruation. This is the rhythm of your body. Your chemicals move up and down throughout the month. As women we can all feel this; different days make us feel different.
As stated above, progesterone is primarily produced in the second half of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Reproductively speaking, it is the hormone responsible for the survival of the fetus in pregnancy. Progesterone is also produced in small amounts in the adrenal glands in both sexes (men also produce some progesterone in the testes), where it acts as a precursor for other steroid hormones. (All hormones are considered steroid hormones: testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, DHEA, pregnenolone, aldosterone, and more. The term steroid describes both hormones produced by the body and artificially produced medications that duplicate the action for the naturally occurring steroids.)
The benefits and roles of progesterone are many, including:
• Is a precursor to other sex hormones
• Is essential for pregnancy and the survival of the fetus
• Supports sex drive
• Prevents PMS
• Protects against fibrocystic breasts
• Restores proper cell oxygen levels
• Acts as a natural diuretic
• Protects against endometrial cancer
• Normalizes zinc and copper levels
• Helps counteract the role of estrogen in breast cancer
• Acts as a natural antidepressant
• Normalizes blood clotting
• Facilitates thyroid function
• Helps regulate blood sugar levels
• Stimulates cells for bone building
• Improves energy, stamina, and endurance
In other words, progesterone does a lot. Without it we are left with unopposed estrogen, which will leave you pretty defenseless against disease, including cancer. When progesterone declines severely, we are at risk for having our bodies in an unhealthy hormonal state of imbalance, where excess estrogen, or estrogen dominance, is the norm. Perimenopausal women tend to lose progesterone and deficiency of this hormone leaves us with very “in your face” symptoms, including:
• Painful, tender, swollen breasts
• Anxiety and stress
• Abdominal cramps
• Extremely heavy periods
• Night sweats
• Early miscarriage
• Trouble sleeping
• Headaches associated with your period
• Low bone density
• Weight gain
• Swollen extremities
• Excessive water retention
When I was in my late thirties and early forties, I had pretty much every symptom mentioned. I even remember going to doctor after doctor complaining about my painful swollen breasts and no one understood what to do about it or what it meant.
Perimenopause is problematic biologically because as far as the brain is concerned it thinks the woman is hormonally in the first trimester of pregnancy because of her hormone ranges. The specific hormonal environment of early pregnancy is one of high insulin, coupled with low estrogen and thyroid functioning. These levels are also mimicked in perimenopause. This is why weight gain is so prevalent. The body is confused. It thinks it’s pregnant. Your breasts start to hurt just as when you are pregnant and you retain water.
Some time in your thirties and forties it is likely that the balance between estrogen and progesterone will shift heavily toward estrogen. This excess estrogen (estrogen dominance) is to blame for PMS, night sweats, and depression.
BREAST CANCER RISK INCREASES IN PERIMENOPAUSE
I wish I had known to listen to the language of my body during perimenopause. I had all the signals. I was the classic example of estrogen dominance. I was moody and bitchy around the house, and I felt justified about being so cranky.
The hormonal environment that comes with this dominance
is more serious than moodiness, though. This scenario can trigger fetal oncogenes to start flipping on and these oncogenes can contribute to the production of a cancer. This leaves the perimenopausal woman stranded with no source of progesterone to give the signal to turn those cells off because they don’t have enough estrogen to “peak” in order to ovulate anymore and there’s no placenta on board. Without adequate progesterone, the low chronic estrogen is never turned off, so now the state she is in is life threatening because it can become the backdrop for cancer.
Take perimenopause seriously! Don’t ignore your symptoms.
Had I known and understood my symptoms I might have been able to avoid breast cancer. My balance was off. The body likes to be in balance; that’s when everything works well. Balance is health and quality of life. Progesterone and estrogen are meant to work together to maintain hormonal
in the body. As your progesterone production diminishes, your quality of life diminishes. Soon your abilities to make estrogen will begin to diminish, and then your symptoms of withdrawal will increase exponentially.
We’ve all seen what addicts go through when they are withdrawing from their feel-good addictions. Losing our life-giving, youth-giving hormones is a major form of withdrawal and that is why you feel so bad when you enter perimenopause.
The correct ratios between estrogen and progesterone are key. These two hormones are meant to work together to maintain hormone balance. Without balance come mood swings, weight gain, and other even more serious symptoms. Women who have had a hysterectomy also need to balance their monthly cycles with
progesterone. (It’s amazing to me that most mainstream doctors don’t know this.)
PROGESTERONE—A CAUSE OF POSTPARTUM BLUES?
Here’s an interesting fact. In childbirth, once the umbilical cord is cut, all the progesterone whooshes out of the mother into the baby. It is different for each woman: some women’s bodies start progesterone production almost immediately after giving birth and they are left feeling happy, blissful, and satisfied. Other women’s bodies just take longer to rev up again, leaving those moms in a complete state of hormonal imbalance. They are left feeling like they are going crazy inside, which often results in depression and loads of self-blame. (It’s referred to as the postpartum blues.) If this rings a bell, remember: it’s not you, it’s your hormones, and it’s fixable with a qualified doctor (go to
) who will adjust your progesterone levels.
Estrogen is one of the most powerful hormones in the human body; it is what makes a woman a woman. It is estrogen that gives women their softness, their curves and breasts, and helps regulate a woman’s passage through menstruation, fertility, and menopause. What many people don’t know is that both men and women make estrogen. To be a woman, you need high levels of estrogen and low levels of testosterone. To be a man, you need high levels of testosterone and low levels of estrogen.
Estrogen is not a single hormone. It is a group of many separate yet similar estrogen hormones, which for simplicity’s sake can be narrowed down to “the big three”: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. These are produced in the ovaries, body fat, and other parts of the body and perform the functions we normally attribute to estrogen.
Approximately three hundred different tissues are equipped with estrogen receptors. This means that estrogen can affect a wide range of tissues and organs, including the brain, liver, bones, and skin. The uterus, urinary tract, breasts, and blood vessels also depend upon estrogen to stay toned and flexible. (Have you ever laughed so hard you peed your pants? Is this happening regularly now? It’s because of the estrogen loss that comes with this transition.) Estrogen works in concert with progesterone to nourish and support the growth and regeneration of the female reproductive tissues—breasts, ovaries, and the uterus—so the body will create eggs. In addition, estrogen imparts the characteristic female growth of body hair and its distribution of body fat. It can also protect heart and brain function, and promote bone strength.
Too Little Estrogen
Symptoms of estrogen deficiency include:
• Unexplained weight gain
• Apple- or pear-shaped body
• Sweating and hot flashes
• Trouble sleeping
• Foggy thinking
• Bladder infections
• Watery eyes
• Low libido
• Heart palpitations
• Low bone density
• Painful intercourse
Nice huh? Now are you getting why you aren’t feeling so hot?
When a woman is hormonally imbalanced, the body ceases to operate at peak, but the effect is slow and insidious. That’s why it takes so long to connect the dots and understand that these symptoms are perimenopausal.
But imbalance doesn’t only come from producing less, you can also have excess estrogen circulating. Its symptoms include:
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
• Ovarian cysts
• Midcycle pain
• Puffiness and bloating
• Cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear)
• Rapid weight gain
• Breast tenderness
• Mood swings
• Heavy bleeding
• Anxious depression
• Migraine headaches
• Foggy thinking
• Red flush on face
• Gallbladder problems
Estrogen excess leads to a dangerous scenario of building more and more lining within the endometrium (uterus lining) until it becomes so thick you experience breakthrough bleeding, sometimes even hemorrhaging. If this bleeding occurs with frequency, a traditional doctor may recommend a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. This, frankly, makes my blood boil. We have our body parts for a reason, and to be so cavalier as to remove the uterus as a way to stop bleeding is dangerous, upsetting to the woman, and not very creative. My experts and research tell me that a better remedy for breakthrough bleeding is bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) so as to cycle the right amounts of estrogen and progesterone into a woman’s body.
Estrogen dominance is a dangerous state. I began to grow my relatively large cancerous breast tumor during perimenopause due to estrogen dominance. (I didn’t know enough to go to a doctor for hormones. It just wasn’t on the radar at that time.) The problem with a tumor is you can’t feel it. Knowing what I know now, I would realize that the puffiness, bloating, mood swings, sleeplessness, and the profuse and frequent breakthrough bleeding (at the time I only felt comfortable wearing black) were indeed symptoms that undiagnosed had profound consequences for me.
It’s important to understand that it’s imbalanced hormones that have the potential to give cancer cells an opportunity to proliferate.
develop when you don’t have enough progesterone to balance the effects of estrogen. Most
is usually reported by women who have declining hormones, are not on any hormone replacement whatsoever, or those taking synthetic hormones or birth control pills. Those symptoms indicate that you are either estrogen dominant or progesterone deficient. In many cases the symptoms are the same. That’s why replacing hormones correctly truly is an “art” form. It takes a qualified doctor, doing what is best described as detective work, to find the perfect balance or as I call it “the sweet spot” with natural hormone replacement.
Testosterone is a naturally occurring anabolic steroid hormone, which means it builds bone and muscle. Your levels always decline around the end of your reproductive years, whether you are male or female. It is an androgen (male hormone), but women also have it. Many don’t know that testosterone is very important in relation to the behavior and the general look of a woman. Testosterone is produced in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Its main function is to provide sex drive; it directly affects sexual sensitivity, clitoris size (and sensitivity), nipple sensitivity, and orgasm. (Pretty nice benefits!)
To limit this important hormone to sex drive alone, though, would be underrating its value. It has many other functions: it maintains bone density, affects muscle size and strength, and is responsible for skin oil secretion.
Testosterone is essential to a woman’s hormonal song, although in lower amounts than in men. Testosterone can help with the symptoms of hormonal loss, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It lessens the risk of osteoporosis by improving bone density, reduces body fat, improves mood and lessens depression, improves muscle mass, decreases the risk of autoimmune disorders, fights fatigue, improves symptoms of diabetes,
reduces the risk of heart disease, and helps in the treatment of lupus.
Testosterone is essential for a strong working heart. The heart is the largest muscle in the body with more testosterone receptor sites than any other muscle. It is your “pumping power”; testosterone keeps your heart strong.
When you are young, you don’t think about your heart much; it’s just a given. But ten or twenty years from now you are really going to appreciate having a heart that pumps freely and efficiently. It’s about energy and vitality, and the difference between youth and old age is vitality.